- From a researching cousin. Kemis
I know a lot of us know this, but I thought a refresher couldn't hurt and
maybe some of the newer people to genealogy hadn't seen it.
It might help explain why there are SO many people in one family with the
same first name, male and female alike
You will often see the same names used over and over again in families.
While certain names are popular in different areas in different times in
history, the repetition could represent a pattern. Many cultures believe in
honoring their elders and do so by naming children after them. Angus Baxter
in "In Search of Your British and Irish Roots" describes a pattern that was
popular in England in the 1700-1875 period:
* The first son was named after the father's father
* The second son was named after the mother's father
* The third son was named after the father
* The fourth son was named after the father's eldest brother
* The first daughter after the mother's mother
* The second daughter after the father's mother
* The third daughter after the mother
* The fourth daughter after the mother's eldest sister
If this pattern would result in a duplication of names - i.e., both
grandfathers had the same name - then they would skip to the next one on the
list. Similar patterns have been suggested for other nationalities. This
could be a very helpful formula, but many genealogists warn against giving
it too much credence. Given human nature, it would be very difficult to
follow exactly. It would be pretty hard to convince a new mother of her
first-born son to name him after a drunken, abusive father-in-law rather
than her own beloved father who had just died.
You will probably see names of parents and grandparents, siblings, aunts and
uncles repeated, but not in any strict order. It is difficult to know whom a
child called Ann or Mary was actually named after. While over half of the
names in a family will probably appear to be repeats, there always seems to
be a few totally different ones. A child might be named after a good friend
or a popular hero of the times. Of the 12 names given to my grandparents'
six children born between 1881 and 1896, I can identify the family namesake
of 10. Of the other two, Urquhart is somehow associated with the family
because an aunt's will mentions the Urquhart coat of arms and a bequest to a
person with the middle name Urquhart.
Even if the family did not follow this strict pattern, the repetition of
names can be significant, especially if there is an unusual name. Let us say
you are researching a family group that went west. The family had children
named Benjamin, Obadiah and Catherine. When these children married, they
tended to carry on these same names. You know they came from New England,
but have no proof as to where. If you find a family of that surname in Rhode
Island with children named George, John, William and Ann and another family
in Vermont with children Benjamin, Obadiah and Catherine, you will probably
want to put your first effort into the Vermont family. It is not any proof
in itself, but goes towards the preponderance of the evidence.
Some families may show an extreme fondness for one name. In one family,
Samuel and William, both with the same surname, came to America. Twenty
years later William signed a power of attorney to settle the estate of
Robert who had died in Ireland. Most researchers have assumed, as a working
theory, that these men were brothers and Robert was their father. A partial
list of 77 descendants shows that in four generations of descendants of
Robert the name William occurs 10 times. By contrast, Robert only occurs
four times. This makes me a bit skeptical that Robert is really the
progenitor of the family. He may have been an uncle or childless relative.
Names as a Virtue
Some of the most fascinating names come from early New England where parents
sometimes named their children after virtues they hoped they would possess:
Patience, Charity, Prudence, Thankful. Some names appear quite strange to
modern ears. In view of 20th century meanings, "Freelove" does not seem to
be an appropriate name for a daughter! Other names had special meaning. In
early New England it is believed that the name Benoni was associated with
sorrow and was used when the mother was not married or died in childbirth or
if the circumstances were in some way unfortunate.
Up until this century, parents could usually count on one third of their
children not surviving. If a child died, the name was often used again. If a
baby died, the next child of the same sex would often be given the same
name. When checking birth records, you should never stop when you find the
name you are looking for. You should continue for a few more years, because
the first child could have died and your ancestor could have been the second
child in the family with that name. If an older child died, a younger one
would often be named for him or her. If you see George in the 1850 census as
a six year old and then in the 1860 census as an eight year old, it may mean
the first one died shortly after the 1850 census was taken.
You may think you have a relationship all figured out only to come upon a
completely different name for the wife. Nicknames that were common in
earlier times, especially for girls, may not be known nicknames at all
today. I thought I never would figure out all the wives one man had. He was
married to Ann, Margaret Agnes, Hannah and Nancy in different records.
Fortunately, my life was simplified when I found out that Ann, Hannah, Nan
and Nancy were all variations of the same name. Some even say that Agnes is
a variation of Ann so his four wives became two at the most. Here are some
others you may encounter:
* Margaret: Maggie, Rita, Madge, Greta, Peggy, even Daisy (Marguerite is the
French word for Daisy)
* Mary: Polly, Minnie, Polette (Polly/Mary is very common in early America)
* Minerva: Minnie
* Alice: Lisa, Sonny
* Amelia: Milly
* Helen: Ailene, Elaine, Leonora, Nelly
* Sarah: Sadie
* Louise: Alison, Eloise, Lois
Most male nicknames are more straightforward, although Hal and Harry for
Henry or Neil for Cornelius are a little less obvious. What frequently
happens with men is they decide to go by their middle name. Everyone will
know them by the middle name and they will be written up in county histories
under this name. John William may be called Bill most of the time. But when
it comes to some official documents, he will trot out his full legal name.
You may pore over the census looking for Bill or Wm. and completely overlook
John. Your best piece of luck is when you encounter a document where he uses
both names together.
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- Thanks for this, Kemis. It It bears out, in the Irish section, what I have been told by the National Archives in Dublin.
Paul F. Diffley
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